A Man United Fan on Why Mourinho Faces A Tough Second Stint At Chelsea
This week was one of celebration for Chelsea fans. Not only did they get to see the back of the hugely unpopular Rafa Benitez, they also were able to welcome Jose Mourinho back. Chelsea fans were given a lot of stick from the media and rival fans for setting against Benitez from day one but it is disingenuous to suggest any other fanbase would or should have behaved differently. The rivalry between Chelsea and Liverpool when Benitez was manager at the Merseyside club aside, the Spaniard took the unusual approach of heavily criticising the supporters at the west London club. It isn’t commonplace for managers to behave in such a way. For example, United and Tottenham Hotspur fans have sung about Arsene Wenger being a paedophile for years, but he’s never publicly had a bad word to say against them. The occasions when a manager has singled out supporters are few and far between so Chelsea fans were more than entitled to want nothing to do with Benitez.
“We don’t need to give away stupid plastic flags to our fans to wave, our supporters are always there with their hearts and that is all we need. It’s the passion of the fans that helps us to win matches, not flags. Chelsea fans lack passion.”
These words from Benitez are still up on a wall at Melwood, Liverpool’s training ground, at a club where he is strangely regarded as some sort of legend. Even if you ignore that Liverpool, like most clubs, are guilty of giving away “stupid plastic flags”, Benitez could have sung the praises of his own fans without attacking Chelsea’s, but his decision not to do this ensured he endured a rough few months as their manager years later.
Chelsea started last season better than any other club but when their form started to suffer Roman Abramovich leapt at the chance to sack Roberto Di Matteo, who he’d almost been forced in to giving the job to on a permanent basis following the unexpected cup double the season before. They were just 4 points off top spot at the time but managed to find themselves an incredible 20 points adrift of United after just a few months with Benitez in charge. I’m sure the Spaniard would like to blame the supporters for this, thanks to their negative influence from the stands, but then it would be strange to argue that the same fanbase that lacked passion was capable of making such an impact…
With Benitez gone, Chelsea fans can now reminisce about the glory days under Mourinho and look forward to the success that is now on the horizon. However, amidst all their rightful celebration, excessive column inches in the papers and predictable unhappiness from rival fans, history has been re-written and the fact that we now live in a different footballing climate has seemingly been forgotten.
Mourinho inherited a brilliant squad from Claudio Ranieri, who had managed to guide Chelsea from 5th in the league to 2nd in just four years, as well as a place in the Champions League semi-final, and that was with just one year of Abramovich’s money. The Chelsea spine of Petr Cech, John Terry, Claude Makelele and Frank Lampard was already in place before Mourinho got the job, as well as other quality players like Arjen Robben, Eidur Gudjohnsen, William Gallas and Damien Duff, amongst others.
The additions of Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Ricardo Carvalho certainly strengthened what was already a fantastic team, but the world class buys were in the minority in comparison to all the average or poor players Mourinho brought to Chelsea over the next few seasons. Paulo Ferreira, Mateja Kezman, Ben Sahar, Tiago Mendes, Jiri Jarosik, Tel Ben Haim, Asier Del Horno, Maniche, Juliano Belletti, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Steve Sidwell, Claudio Pizarro, Henrique Hilario and Khalid Boulahrouz are amongst some of the players that failed to set the world alight. Even the best managers are guilty of making the odd poor signing, but in Mourinho’s three years at Chelsea the bad signings massively outweighed the brilliant ones. Was the squad Mourinho left behind in 2007 stronger than the one he was given in 2004? Did it accurately represent hundreds of millions spent in the transfer market? Not at all.
Still, Mourinho ensured that Chelsea were a winning machine in 2004-2005 and no side could get close to them. I can still clearly remember how I felt seeing the predicted line-ups in the paper for the opening game of the season between Chelsea and United. The quality they had on show in comparison to us was fairly embarrassing. Our starting XI was Howard, Silvestre, Gary Neville, Keane, Fortune, Miller, O’Shea, Djemba-Djemba, Giggs, Scholes and Smith, with Bellion, Richardson and Forlan coming on as subs. Horrible.
The following season United presented more of a challenge, bringing in Van der Sar, Park Ji-Sung, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic for a combined total of less than £20m, and managed to close the gap from 18 points to 8. We were moving in the right direction and ended the season fairly well, particularly with the news that Scholes’ career wasn’t over because of a sight problem as we’d previously feared. Finally, there was a bit of hope around Old Trafford for what next season could bring…
Until Chelsea added one of the best players in the world for each position that summer. Ashley Cole came in defence from Arsenal, Michael Ballack came in midfield from Bayern Munich and Andriy Shevchenko came in attack from AC Milan, on the back of a season that saw him score 28 goals. That was without even looking at other signings that summer, in Kalou (£8m), Sahar (£0.3m), Mikel (£16m) and Boulahrouz (£8.5m).
In contrast, we sold our top scorer, Ruud van Nistelrooy, as well as his understudy, Giuseppe Rossi, and bought no replacement. In midfield, we signed Michael Carrick, who was a long way down the list for the player most reds wanted to see replace Roy Keane, if he made their lists at all! And that was it.
That summer, Rob Smyth wrote this in The Guardian: “Shredding his legacy at every turn. Sir Alex Ferguson’s brilliance famously knocked Liverpool off their perch. Now his incompetence is doing the same to Manchester United. Usually, the best thing about pre-season is the hope: reality’s incisors have yet to pierce the gums of optimism, and fans can live off the balmy, often barmy belief that this is their year. For supporters of most of the other 91 English clubs, that’s the mood right now. For United fans? Forget it. After three seasons of papering over the cracks, it seems most United fans are awaiting the moment that the fault lines tracing a veiny path across Old Trafford are exposed… It is conceivable that, if they start slowly and get significant injuries, United could finish fifth.”
It was followed by this from Oliver Holt in The Mirror: “If United want to muster more of a challenge to Chelsea next season, the last person – after Wayne Rooney – that they should be selling is van Nistelrooy. Selling him would be a huge step backwards and a massive blow to the club. Does Ferguson seriously expect anyone else to believe that the injury-prone Louis Saha is a better bet next season than a goal machine like van Nistelrooy. If he does, then his judgement is waning faster than everybody thought. Ferguson thinks there is no need to buy a new forward when he rids himself of Ruud van Nistelrooy. The theory is that he will be OK with Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Alan Smith and Giuseppe Rossi. Which is fine, apart from the fact that Rooney’s got a dodgy temperament, Saha’s injury prone, Solskjaer’s played seven league games in the past three years, Smith has never been a natural goalscorer and Rossi’s not ready.”
Now, we all know what happened next, but the gulf between United and Chelsea at the start of the 06-07 season, and Mourinho’s resulting failure to capitalise on this, has seemingly been forgotten by most. Whilst Chelsea ended the season with the FA and League Cups, they were merely consolation prizes after missing out on the trophy they really wanted, and if we’re being honest, the trophy they should have won. United went top of the table in October though and that’s where they stayed all season, eventually winning the league by 7 points with two games left to play. There was no excuse for Chelsea not dominating the league that season, despite picking up a few injuries, let alone not winning it, but Mourinho’s last full season in charge was one of failure and showed his inability to maintain success.
Since then, he has enjoyed a brilliant stint at Inter Milan, the club he recently revealed as the one that has given him more happiness than any other, and a relatively successful time at Real Madrid. Of course, in Spain, he’s had to battle it out for trophies with debatably one of the best club side’s in history, but even with a blank chequebook, Cristiano Ronaldo and the absence of Pep Guardiola, Mourinho conceded the title five months before the end of the 2012-2013 season.
Still, there can be no denying that Mourinho is an exceptional manager and that for all his failings or flaws, he wins trophies wherever he goes. Lots of people have recently claimed that David Moyes is “cut from the same cloth” as Sir Alex Ferguson, and personality wise, that may be the case, but in terms of a successful managerial career, it is Mourinho who is far more similar to United’s great former manager. Both excelled and overachieved with smaller clubs before going on to win a ridiculous number of trophies with bigger clubs. There aren’t many football fans that would turn down the cup finals and days of glory that a manager like Mourinho is almost certainly guaranteed to bring.
In his first stint at Chelsea, Mourinho won two league titles, two League Cups and the FA Cup. Chelsea fans may now envisage similar success the second time around, particularly when they look at the talents like Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard that Mourinho will have at his disposal. However, the introduction of three letters means that Mourinho’s return might not come anywhere near to matching his first go in charge.
Even with the brilliant squad Mourinho was given, he wanted several new players of his own, and Chelsea made losses of £140m (with £109m spent on wages) in his first year, with them also winning the title and League Cup. In his second year the club won the title again and made losses of £80m (with £114m spent on wages). In his third year the club won the FA Cup and the League Cup, and made losses of £66m (with £172m spent on wages).
In February this year at a meeting of Premier League chairmen in London it was voted that our league would adopt spending controls and a form of restraint on salary increases. The new rules state that clubs can only lose £105m between 2013-2016 and that wage bills over £52m can only rise by £4m per season. FFP is upon us, much to the relief of United and Arsenal supporters, but this may have a significant impact on how successful Mourinho can hope to be at Chelsea.
Despite them finishing in the top 2 in England and in the top 4 in Europe the season before Mourinho got the job, the club made losses of £286m in three years, which was largely down to the huge influx of new signings and their massive contracts. This is more than double the losses that would be allowed according to the new rules.
In Mourinho’s first season the wage bill rose by £5m and in his second season by £58m, which again are rises that breach the new rules.
Former Chelsea chief executive, Peter Kenyon, claimed that the club would be self-sufficient by 2009. But they made losses of £44m that year, losses of £71m in 2010 and losses of £68m in 2011.
However, Chelsea’s financial reports boast healthier figures these days and in 2012 they made their first profit in the Abramovich era. Still, it was a profit of just £1.4m, which is the same as Dundee United’s and less than half the figure that Championship side Burnley managed. We should also remember that to achieve this £1.4m profit Chelsea had to win the Champions League and receive a one-off paper profit of £15m which arose from BSkyB writing off historic ownership of shares.
Winning the Europa League last month will have helped boost Chelsea’s income, although the prize money and TV revenue is not really comparable with Champions League funds.
Chelsea finished 3rd last season and didn’t even make it out of the group stages in Europe, which would suggest they are in a much worse position than they were when Ranieri handed his team over in 2004. But this time around, Mourinho surely won’t be able to spend anywhere near what he did last time to help put Chelsea back on top. Chelsea have the foundation of a great squad, but they are still several players short of a title-winning team, which would set them back a small fortune in terms of transfer fees and wage increases.
As yet, it appears as though some clubs are not taking new Premier League rules or UEFA’s FFP restrictions very seriously. Whilst we allow for £105m losses over three years, UEFA’s guidelines limit clubs to losses of just £39m over the same period of time. The consequences of failing to comply with these rules supposedly are point deductions in the league and expulsion from the Champions League.
Whilst it would be foolish to claim Mourinho won’t be successful at Chelsea again, as winning is just what he does, the differences between now and nine years ago mean that a repeat of his first stint is far from guaranteed. Chelsea might very well win the title next season, and managerial changes at both United and City could aid that. But when reflecting on Mourinho’s last season at Chelsea, his time with Real Madrid, and the financial restrictions that are now in place, the road to success may be considerably rockier this time around.